ANAHEIM, Calif. – Torii Hunter doesn’t know if these are his final days in an Angels uniform. He hopes they’re not, but he’s spent enough time in the big leagues to know that business is business.
His contract is up when the season ends. The Angels have plenty of young outfielders who can step in and take his place. He may have to move on.
If he does – if his five seasons in Anaheim are almost up – at least he’s making them memorable.
Hunter is refusing to let the Angels fall out of the race for the playoffs. He is doing everything in his power to keep their season alive, to keep their flickering hopes burning.
“I really want to win,” he said late Wednesday night, “and I’m pretty sure everyone in this clubhouse is the same way. Maybe I’ve been around a little longer so I want it more than most, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Hunter is making it fun. He delivered the game-tying run in the seventh inning with a single, then won it in the ninth with another RBI single, helping the Angels to a 4-3 win over the Seattle Mariners at Angel Stadium.
How important was the win? Put it this way: They already saw the scoreboard results showing that the Oakland A’s and Baltimore Orioles had posted victories. A loss would have dropped them three games back in the American League wild card race with just seven games to play.
It was their season. They knew it.
“Momentum changes. It’s crazy,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “If we lost today and come back and win tomorrow and (the A’s) lose a couple, now you have momentum again. It’s a crazy time of year. The only thing we control is how we play. Needless to say, we need wins.”
Perhaps, but who wants to be in that position? The Angels are already on the edge; no sense moving closer to elimination.
Hunter, who turned 37 in July, has been their rock down the stretch. He has 23 RBIs in 23 games this month and is hitting .342 since the All-Star break, the third best mark in the American League. He already had one walk-off hit this season, and here he was, ready to produce another.
His opportunity came only after Maicer Izturis, batting for catcher Bobby Wilson, led off the ninth with a pinch-hit single off Mariners reliever Stephen Pryor. Until Wednesday, Izturis had gone 0 for 20 as a pinch hitter this season.
A wild pitch by Pryor allowed Izturis to take second base, and Peter Bourjos’ sacrifice moved him to third.
Rather than pitch to Mike Trout, the Mariners intentionally walked the rookie and opted to face Hunter.
Hunter’s reaction? “Mistake,” he said, drawing out the word. “That’s what you’ve got to feel. When they walked Trout I figured they would walk me too because there’s a base open and all you have to do is make it a force play at home or even a double play. I figured they would pitch around me.”
They didn’t. Hunter got a cut fastball from Pryor and looped it into center field, bringing home the winning run.
“Torii plays with passion,” Scioscia said. “He plays with intensity, whether you’re playing a spring training game or you’re in a pennant race. There’s an awareness in that clubhouse of what we’re up against.
“I think the guys are playing terrific baseball. In many ways we’re playing the best baseball we’ve played all year, and Torii’s right in the middle of it.”
He has been in the middle for a while now. Scioscia said Hunter made an adjustment his swing earlier this season, but it has also been the move to the No. 2 spot in the order that has rejuvenated him.
You can see the energy in his play. He sees it himself.
“This month and last month and the month before that and the month before that,” he said of his hot streak. “The last four months I feel it. I really want to get there and I’m pretty sure everybody in here (does), too.”
He also wants to come back, but that’s a subject for another day. Maybe, when the season is over, the Angels will make it happen.
Given how well he’s played, it would be money well spent.